Borzou Daragahi
Los Angeles Times
May 20, 2011

Tucked into President Obama’s speech on Arab world policy Thursday were indications of a subtle but important shift regarding the repressive rule of President Bashar Assad in Syria, a linchpin state in the Middle East that has long been considered a bulwark of stability.

For years, diplomats and scholars worried that the departure of the Assad clan would plunge Syria into the kind of civil strife that engulfed neighboring Lebanon and Iraq or the former Yugoslavia. But increasingly they believe that the biggest factor in Syria’s potential instability is the regime’s attempts to exploit the nation’s sectarian tensions, not the inherent divisions in the country.

“Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else,” Obama said of the region, words that could describe the tactics used by Assad as well as Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh and Libya’s Moammar Kadafi.

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